(Photo: AP Images / Mark Lennihan)
Socially liberal Muslims are urging the imam behind the controversial Ground Zero mosque to abandon the project.
Tarek Fatah and Raheel Raza of the Muslim Canadian Congress say the proposed mosque and Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are undoubtedly an act of "fitna," or "mischief-making," which is forbidden in the Koran.
"The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel," they wrote in a commentary in the Canadian newspaper Ottowa Citizen.
The two Muslims point out that New York currently has at least 30 mosques and thus there isn't a pressing need to find space for worshippers.
In a letter Tuesday to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf – chairman of the Cordoba Initiative which is spearheading the Ground Zero mosque – the Muslim Canadian Congress challenged the imam's claim that the $100 million mosque and center will promote tolerance.
"If Imam Rauf is serious about building bridges, then he could have dedicated space in this so-called community centre to a Church and Synagogue, but he did not. He could have proposed a memorial to the 9/11 dead with a denouncement of the doctrine of armed jihad, but he chose not to," the MCC contended.
And even if the intention of those behind the Cordoba Initiative project is noble, the negative reaction by the American people indicates that the mosque will be "a permanent sore point and a lightning rod for anti-Muslim feelings."
"For this reason alone, the project must be abandoned," the group urged.
Last week, the project cleared its first hurdle when New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to deny landmark status to the building – the old Burlington Coat factory that had a piece of one of the hijacked airplanes crash into it – on Park Place. Landmark status would have made it difficult for the Cordoba Initiative to raze the building and build its center there.
The American Center for Law and Justice filed a lawsuit last week challenging the commission’s vote.
"This site is sacred ground and not the place to build a mosque," the ACLJ contended. "And our suit argues that the city acted hastily and did not follow its own procedures."
Opponents of the Islamic center are disturbed by the lack of transparency, particularly the source of funding for the project.
The MCC said it is opposed to the mosque because many questions have gone unanswered.
"If this mosque is being funded by Saudi sources, then it is an even bigger slap in the face of Americans as nine of the jihadis in the Twin Tower calamity were Saudis," the group stated.
A number of politicians, including former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Rick Lazio, who is running for New York governor, and Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, are calling on New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate where the project's funding is coming from.
"We should have transparency," Lazio said recently on CNN. "It is our responsibility ... to determine whether or not foreign governments are investing in this mosque, if radical Islamic organizations are investing in this mosque, and if that's the case at Ground Zero effectively then we should know about it before we go forward."
"We haven't even finished the reconstruction on the Ground Zero buildings ... and now we're rushing forward and refuse to ask questions about a $100 million mosque when this organization files with the state of New York and says they only have $18,000."
Lazio also expressed concerns over Imam Rauf, who has been sent by the U.S. State Department as an envoy to the Middle East.
"When he says America was an accomplice to the crime of 9/11, when he says that Osama bin Laden and all that he represents, including the execution of over 3,000 Americans, was effectively made in the USA, those are not the words of a bridge-builder or a peacemaker," he asserted.
"As an imam, if you don't have enough sensitivity to understand the sacred ground, the emotions, the sensitivity of loss, the open wounds that people still feel around that 9/11 site, that Ground Zero site, then you are completely out of touch, in my view, with what healing and reconciliation and bridge building is really about."
The New York Post reported on Sunday that the developers of the proposed mosque own only half the site – 45-47 Park Place, which the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement paid for in cash ($4.85 million) to Soho Properties last year. The Post discovered that Con Edison, which provides electric service in New York City, owns the other half – 49-51 Park Place.
Soho Properties – a Muslim-run real estate company – did, however, sign a long-term lease (until 2071) on the other building.
And Con Edison said Monday that the mosque and center developers have the rights to alter, demolish or renovate the building.
While plans for the Islamic project are expected to move forward, opponents argue that the developers seem to be "operating under false pretenses."
"I wonder what else they are hiding," King told the New York Post.